It wasn’t the most lopsided victory the Norsemen have enjoyed this season, but it was enough to get the job done as the two teams traded five goals in the second period and those were the only tallies to beat a goalie as St. Cloud added an empty netter to knock off the Austin Bruins by a final of 4-2.
Neither team could find the scoresheet in a somewhat uneventful first period that saw the Norsemen outshoot the visitors 9 to 6. Halfway through the period St. Cloud got their first of three Rambow power play opportunities but couldn’t convert on the only penalty called in the frame. Austin got on the board first when Jack Malinski shot from the point and Sam Christiano gathered the loose puck from the rebound and in one motion turned and fired from the left circle through some traffic and contact to give the Bruins the 1-0 lead at the 6:50 mark. But that lead would hold up for just 24 seconds when Wyatt Wurst made a long outlet pass at the left wing boards within spitting distance of his own goal line that bounced up to Lucca Munoz at the right side of the Austin blue line. Munoz then feathered a pass to Daniels Murnieks who dropped down to one knee and one-timed the puck home past Adam Prokop’s right to tie the game. Just over a minute later Andrew Cumming came up the left side and hit Tyler Dysart with a pass at the blue line before changing and Dysart was forced wide to the boards. Dysart then on a backhanded pass found Blake Perbix at the goal line and Perbix wheeled out front and fired in tight. His initial shot was stopped but he followed up his own shot and beat the goalie to give the Norsemen the lead.
The Bruins were a little fortuitous on their second goal as a shot from Jackson Luther at the lower, inside portion of the right circle bounced in off a Norsemen skate in the crease to get the game back to even at 11:43. But less than two minutes later St. Cloud would regain the lead for good when Severi Sulonen dropped a pass for Andrew Clarke at the Norsemen blue line on a power play opportunity. Clarke had it poked away from him at neutral ice but it went right to the tape of Murnieks who was waiting patiently at the right wing boards to stay onside and gain the offensive zone. He sent it right back to Clarke and Clarke found Kade Peterson streaking down the middle. Peterson wasted no time tapping home the feed at the 13:24 mark. The five-goal frame saw 25 shots on goal with the Norsemen having a 14-11 advantage.
Both teams traded power play chances in the second and the third but the St. Cloud defense stifled Austin to just 5 shots on goal in the final 20 minutes and outshot the Bruins 11-5 for the period and 34-22 for the game. In the dying seconds of the contest Austin desperately attempted to tie the game but with their netminder pulled Dysart created a neutral zone turnover that Peterson skated into, toe-dragged around an opponent, gained the center line and fired from the neutral third to ice the game with six seconds remaining.
St. Cloud Assistant Coach Brock Kautz doesn’t feel like the game felt as lopsided as the shots on goal would indicate. “That team, they work hard, no matter who is in the lineup for them. They’re really well coached and he (Steve Howard) puts a good product on the ice every time. They worked hard, we were fortunate to get some bounces,” reasons Kautz. “I think we were a little bit inconsistent with our legs and I think maybe it didn’t feel like the game was in our hands the whole time because they battled and pushed the pace pretty good. It was really important that we got two points out of it.”
The regular season goes until April 15th but Kautz thinks like tonight’s game certainly had a playoff feel and a playoff atmosphere. “Yeah, 100% and it’s been like that for a few weeks now. I think that’s good for our guys to understand that with every point, every shift, every play, you never know when it’s going to be your last,” Kautz points out. “We really don’t wanna go home after the regular season, we just need to understand that these points are super important if we want to make it to the postseason. It’s nice that we found a way to get two of them.”
The victory improves the Norsemen’s record to 27-20-5-3 and their 62 points put them alone in second place in the NAHL Central Division, a single point clear of North Iowa. They also have a four point cushion over Aberdeen, the team currently holding the last playoff spot in the division. St. Cloud also sits eight and ten points ahead of the North Dakota squads, Minot and Bismarck respectively. With the bottom four teams in the division having six regular season games remaining, St. Cloud’s magic number for clinching a playoff berth sits at 2.5 and is down to 1.5 to eliminate Bismarck.
On a rare Friday night off the Norsemen will be scoreboard watching and with a win already in their pocket this weekend, there really aren’t any bad results for St. Cloud if their divisional opponents’ games end in regulation. Minot is in Aberdeen this weekend while North Iowa is in Bismarck. Minot and Bismarck victories would help the Norsemen keep their lead for the #2 seed, while Aberdeen and North Iowa wins would put St. Cloud even closer to clinching a playoff spot.
The Norsemen have a road contest with the Austin Bruins Saturday night with the puck dropping at 7:05 and you can watch the action on hockeytv.com. The next home games for the Norsemen are Friday and Saturday April 7th and 8th, the last regular season games in St. Cloud. Get your tickets online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.